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Thu Sep 20, 2012, 10:46 PM

"The Case For Optimism" by Bill Clinton at Time

The Case For Optimism

By Bill Clinton at Time




Forget what you may have heard about a digital divide or worries that the world is splintering into "info haves" and "info have-nots." The fact is, technology fosters equality, and it's often the relatively cheap and mundane devices that do the most good. A 2010 U.N. study, for example, found that cell phones are one of the most effective advancements in history to lift people out of poverty.

In Haiti, one of the poorest places on the planet, phones have revolutionized the average person's access to financial opportunity. Until very recently, banks in Haiti didn't make loans. Since about 20% of the country's income comes from remittances from Haitians working in the U.S, Canada, France and around the Caribbean, the banks concentrated on converting the dollars, francs and Canadian dollars to Haitian currency. While that kept the banks in business, it didn't help the ordinary Haitian or change the fact that roughly 70% of the country's people were living on less than $2 a day before the 2010 earthquake.

As a consequence, only 10% of Haitians have a bank account. But around 80% of Haitian households have access to a cell phone. So the chairman of Digicel, Irish businessman Denis O'Brien, worked with a Canadian bank, Scotiabank, to provide a service that lets Haitians withdraw cash and make deposits and person-to-person transfers using their mobile phones without a bank account. By the end of 2011, this service had processed over 6 million transactions.

Similar stories are happening in Africa. Only 4% of households in Africa have Internet access, but more than 50% have cell phones. Because counterfeit medications are a huge problem in sub-Saharan Africa, a CGI member created a company called Sproxil, which lets people in Africa (and now India) use cell phones to text a code on any medication they have to see if it's counterfeit. Ericsson--with the U.N., big investment firm Delta Partners and an NGO called Refugees United--is helping families that have become separated because of conflict reunite using cell phones.


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